SO THE year of the Olympics is finally here. What will readers make of it? Will it be seen as a massive expense and a disruption to normal life?
Or will we see it as Britain successfully hosting a great sporting event, with our country basking for some weeks in the global spotlight and bringing permanent benefits for us?
First of all, the preparations are going well. The construction of these great facilities is in good shape. We hope it will come in within the budget.
Second, we need to make sure we showcase Britain at its best. This means the events being well-organised, Britain looking good, and the hundreds of thousands of visitors receiving a hospitable welcome. It means us showing the best of British culture and British business. If we get all this right then there will be a real long term dividend for Britain in terms of business investment, trade and tourism.
And third, what will be the legacy? The last time Britain hosted the Olympics, in 1948, the legacy was the Paralympic Games, which have grown and grown and which are now a key part of the sporting celebration. This time we want there to be some permanent changes that benefit Britain in particular.
First will be the economic and physical regeneration of that part of East London that includes the Olympic Park. Much of this has already happened; and a part of London that was significantly disadvantaged will be improved beyond recognition. This has economic and social benefits stretching well beyond the immediate locality.
Second, we want there to be a sporting legacy. The core of this will be a regular schools Olympics. This should crystallise the increased interest in sport that we expect 2012 to generate. It is in all our interests that future generations of schoolchildren should take part in and enjoy competitive sports.
Third, we want there to be a social legacy. We hope to capture the spirit of participation that has attracted millions of Britons to want to be involved, whether through volunteering, buying tickets, or simply engaging with the Olympic spirit.
If we can capture and crystallise this desire to join in, and extend it to the many opportunities there are for us to do things with each other and for each other, then we will emerge with a bigger stronger society.
And it will be a great spectacle. I think Britain does this kind of thing really well. There will be something of the spirit of the carnival, and I hope we all will revel in that.
MP for Horsham